Cortisol & Insulin Resistance, My Patient’s Story

August 20, 2013 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

Like so many patients, Bert’s blood glucose levels climbed steadily higher over the years, until he reached the point in his mid-50s where he needed insulin to get through the day. Every time we discussed lifestyle improvements, Bert would swear he was going to make some changes. Unfortunately, that never happened. So he continued to eat whatever he wanted, confident that the insulin would take care of everything.

But an equally big problem for Bert was his response to stress. As a news producer, Bert’s life was one crisis after another. A normal day required him to manage more than a dozen reporters and news crews, while simultaneously sorting through developing stories and figuring out how to best handle them. Over the years, he’d developed the bad habit of over-reacting to even small issues, and that was taking a toll on his health.

I mentioned to him many times that the stress hormone cortisol actually blocks insulin. So, every time Bert over-reacted, his body was flooded with cortisol, and his blood sugar spiked because the insulin he was taking couldn’t do its job.

Bert’s turning point came when he finally realized that the 25 pounds he’d gained over the years were just not going to go away, no matter how hard he exercised.

“I’m really uncomfortable carrying this much weight around,” he admitted, “and I’m getting tired of buying bigger pants every few months. So, what do I have to do to lose this belly?”

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I explained to Bert that he needed to start thinking of food as medicine. We discussed the chemical reactions that food creates in the body, so he understood how simple carbohydrates from packaged and fast food cause blood sugar spikes while small amounts of protein and complex carbs helps balance it.

Then we tackled the stress issue. I recommended Bert practice something I call mindful thinking, which involves taking a moment to breathe deeply and think about how to respond, instead of going with the first response that pops into his head. It took some time, but eventually Bert found it easier to follow my advice.

“I didn’t realize I had such hair-trigger reactions, which explains why the turnover on my staff was so high,” he admitted. “Now I make an effort to stop and think before responding to people. It’s made a world of difference at work. We’re all much more relaxed now, even when there’s a breaking news story to cover.”

Using mindful thinking and his newfound knowledge about how to eat, Bert lost the 25 pounds he had been struggling with. Eventually, he was even able to give up insulin.

“I feel like I’ve wiped the slate clean and am starting over,” he told me during his last visit. “Every day, I remind myself how lucky I am to have a doctor who spends time with patients, so they can take better care of themselves. I didn’t realize it was possible for someone like me to have a 33” waist again – at age 60! When you said food is medicine, you weren’t kidding!”

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